A brilliant tale offering a universe and protagonist that are impressively well realized.

BOUND

In this debut SF novel, a powerful warrior with two complex personalities must discover and destroy the source of a dangerous infection.

The Polis federation, consisting of various intelligent species on more than 10,000 planets, knows no crime because of its members’ unconscious neural links to the Consensus, a shared morality. In case of a threat, the federation can also activate some underlying genes to engender Keld—strong, agile warriors capable of killing. Rarest of this rare breed are the Bound Keld, who can regenerate after their deaths into new lives. These Keld have two personalities, or rather two aspects of the same personality, in one body. Usually these personalities alternate with each reanimation, but Adin Rayne went through a tortuous process in order to become fused with Shennan, her other half. Only one can be ascendant (in charge of the body) at a time, but they’re mutually aware and communicative. Although she’d rather be a peacemaker, as a warrior with the Keld Special Action force, she’s charged with killing worlds, if need be, to protect the federation. On five planets, a new and unprecedented threat has arisen called the Madness, seemingly some type of infection that induces ordinary people to carry out deadly attacks despite the Consensus. In her battles, Adin discovers she has a unique ability to perceive the Mad, allowing her to track down the true nature of this infection and its source, which must be annihilated before the whole Consensus is contaminated. Her dangerous, bold endeavors have severe physical and emotional consequences; as if that wasn’t difficult enough, the Prospect planet Moton has been infected while its scientists are developing technology they’re not socially advanced enough to handle, a double threat. If Keld Special Action can’t wipe out the Madness on Moton, the planet may have to be destroyed.

In his book, Sullivan presents an intricate two-in-one main character whose psychology is as compelling as her warrior prowess. Adin and Shennan complement each other but have different preferences and strengths. Adin is reserved and cool, for example, while Shennan is more optimistic and gregarious. After each death, the personality that was ascendant retires to recoup, allowing the other to come forward and choose the preferred body type for that incarnation (complicating their romances). Adin/Shennan’s conflict between wanting to make peace while required to make war gives the character additional depth, and the worldbuilding is equally intricate and well thought out. The author gives attention to the kinds of differences many SF writers overlook, such as how diverse the cultures and languages can be and the ramifications of that variety. On Pellegro, for example, the four-caste system means a strike team doesn’t have enough taps for cable-fiber bundles, with the group expecting one bundle but getting four: “Who would have thought they wouldn’t even allow their data to touch?” This thoughtfulness is matched by exciting, dynamic action scenes with an array of weaponry and tactics, all described with crystal clarity while fully imparting their urgency and danger.

A brilliant tale offering a universe and protagonist that are impressively well realized.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-57-794744-6

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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